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Of Empire and the City

Remapping Early British Cinema


Maurizio Cinquegrani

This book explores the cinematic representation of the city in British film from 1895 to 1914, featuring depictions of London, Glasgow, Dublin, Delhi and other British colonial cities. The author argues that the films are not only an invaluable record of the economic, social and cultural life of these cities but also that the spatial organization of these urban areas, and the cinematic representations of them, were shaped by the ideology and activity of imperialism. The pioneer camera operators who made these early films often put forward an imperialist ideology by paying particular attention to the cinematic representation of monumental and ceremonial spaces, modern communication and transport within the city and between the city and the empire. Of Empire and the City establishes connections between these cities and their cinematic representation by means of continuous motifs and themes, including modernity, Orientalism, spectatorship and the imperial subject. The book makes a unique contribution to studies of early film, British urban history and the history of the British Empire.
«This is a highly original and genuinely groundbreaking piece of scholarship on early British cinema. Very little work on this subject to date has sought to contextualise films of the 1890s and 1900s within the broader field of the history of imperialism. Cinquegrani's book systematically corrects this ‘blind spot’, and in its use of a wide range of ideas and methodologies […] it offers a compelling new model for future scholarship on British cinema of the silent era.» (Dr Jon Burrows, Associate Professor, Department of Film and Television Studies, University of Warwick)
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Chapter 5: Hybrid Space: The Irish City


← 164 | 165 → CHAPTER 5

Hybrid Space: The Irish City

Where the author raises questions on the place of Ireland in the imperial system and we meet a character from Joyce’s Ulysses outside the Church of Francis Xavier in Dublin.

The Boer War had a diverse impact on British culture and society. It was portrayed in the media with jingoistic undertones and yet undermined people’s faith in the imperial adventure. For example, the events in South Africa prompted Reginald Brabazon, the twelfth Earl of Meath, to question the future and survival of the British Empire.1 In previous chapters we have observed how the war became a recurring theme in early British films, and the cinematic image of Ireland was also affected by the conflict against the Dutch settlers. In 1902, Mitchell and Kenyon produced Regiments Returned from the Boer War to Victoria Barracks, Cork, which represented the Royal Munster Fusiliers, an Irish Infantry Regiment of the British Army, marching to the barracks (later renamed for Cork-born and first commander-in-chief of the Irish Free State Michael Collins). Scenes like this were common in films made in Britain and formally Mitchell and Kenyon’s film does not differ from those shot on the other side of the Irish Sea. However, the perception of the war in Ireland was very different from that in Britain. As Keith Jeffery suggests, the Boer War represented the unacceptable face of the empire, a violent challenge for power and conquest which was popu...

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